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First, this isn't meant to come across as a finger-wagging post.  It'll seem that way to some people, I suppose, but that's not the intention.

I look at searches as broken down into two types when it comes to amateur and unorganized search efforts - hot and cold. 

Cold searches are ones where a person has been missing for 6+ months, professional efforts have been suspended, and there is no active search planned or ongoing.  Hot searches are ones < 6 months old, and usually < 2 weeks old.  Those often have ongoing efforts by law enforcement and SAR, may involve related criminal or civil investigations, and often have significant resources dedicated to them. 

As far as cold searches go, have fun and don't get lost/hurt. 

As far as hot searches go, please don't get in the way.  If you have information, however thin, contact the LE agency overseeing the efforts and share what you know.  If you have photos, videos, or other evidence of the missing subject, please present it as clearly and concisely to LE as possible.  Unless you know an area intimately (hike/hunt there regularly, know the trails and terrain, etc.), please don't offer speculation unless asked.  It's very distracting to be receiving facts and speculative information in the same sentence. 

Please don't go out and start looking, alone or with others, if you're not sworn LE/SAR.  Even then, no sworn LE/SAR members would go out there and search without authorization up the chain of command.  You'd be amazed at how much evidence is often destroyed by well-meaning parties out there looking for a lost subject.  Most of the time footprints are obliterated, but sometimes personal effects are picked up and removed.  Even if those are later handed over to LE, if you can't tell us EXACTLY where you found the item/evidence, it's condition at the time (wet, dry, torn, dirty, dusty, clean, inside out, etc.), you've just ruined what may have been a significant find.  If you do find something, take a picture (geotagging is great), take GPS coordinates (lat/lon are fine, but UTM is king IMO), note the date, time, and circumstances (was it windy?  did the item seem dry, despite a recent rain event?)

I know people want to help, and I don't take that lightly.  I also know that I've trained with my colleagues for countless hours , day and night, for years now, to properly conduct searches, handle evidence, direct teams and resources, and to generally carry out a proper search.  When untrained people get in the way of a hot search, it causes problems.  Often, folks are nice and understanding and immediately leave the area when we ask them to leave.  The whole reason I'm part of SAR is because I want to do my small part for the community, and I know lots of people feel that way as well. 

Rarely (though it happens) people get belligerent and threatening.  The last thing anyone on a SAR team wants to do mid-search is detain you and wait for a deputy to drag you away.  That cuts into our search time and really screws up the folks in ops and plans.  And, if I have to be the one to hike you back to CP and *then* hand you over to a deputy, things are going to be really unpleasant.  In the least, you'll get charged with a misdemeanor, and if it's a search related to possible criminal activity, you're talking a felony (not my call, and in the end, you can deal with the DA and the judge). 

What's worse is when random people wander out to search, get hurt/lost and then become a second incident we need to deal with.  Resources are already stretched thin, and yes, we'll help you, but now the primary objective is receiving less attention.  That's a Very Bad Thing.  It's bad enough when someone on a SAR team gets hurt and we have an IWI to deal with - that usually throws everything into (more) chaos.

Re-reading this, I know it sounds elitist and harsh.  SAR isn't an 'elite' bunch - we've got folks from all walks of life, young and old, dot-commers and contractors, retired Marines and overworked attorneys.  The big thing that sets us apart is lots and lots and lots of constant training. 

If you really, really want to be involved, contact your local Sheriff's SAR unit and apply.  If anyone has questions about SAR and what it's like, feel free to ask or send a PM.  Teams can always use new volunteers, and skills are always in demand.  While each SAR team is different in some ways, the generalities outweigh the distinctions. 

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Interesting post, and I think it's the perfect segue into a comment I have seen a few times on our videos about missing persons and that's "how many cases have you solved".

The truth is, we don't set out to solve the case ourselves, but rather, to bring awareness to these cases and to show the viewer what the terrain looks like. One thing that needs to be remembered is most of these cases are completely cold and were already investigated by law enforcement and search and rescue already, and if they didn't find anything, the chances of us finding anything is pretty slim. There is a possibility, but it's pretty slim, but we give it our best. 

We do look for clues and hope to help bring closure to a family who is missing a loved one, but our main goal is to just get the information out there to the public so everyone can keep their eyes open for any clues. If we can eventually solve a case, which I do hope we can some day, that would be fantastic for the family, but again, it's not our mission! Many of these families are so grateful as they feel like they are being ignored by law enforcement and nobody cares about their loved one. They always want us to continue our search and to continue to bring awareness to these cases. I think that speaks volumes about what our videos do for the families. 

Then you have cases like Vickie Sisneros in which it really doesn't seem like anyone besides the family cares. They had to get their own search together using a non-profit out of Utah, and they came up empty handed. She is most likely out there somewhere and someone will probably eventually find her. My bet is it will be a hunter as they seem to find a lot of missing persons long after search and rescue and law enforcement have given up. 

Which brings up another point I see mentioned a lot, that law enforcement and Search and Rescue already searched that area so you're wasting your time. The fact is, law enforcement and search and rescue are not infallible. Dogs are also not infallible and they are only as good as their handlers. For example, Madeline Lingenfelter went missing off Mount Rose, Search and Rescue spent four days searching for her, they used a helicopter, sniffer dogs, etc. but were unable to locate her remains. The search started at her vehicle and she was later located not far from her vehicle ... SAR completely missed her. She was found by a family looking for a Christmas tree!

Jeffery Kirkwood is another example of this happening, and there are so many other instances of this happening. I believe David Paulides (regardless of what you think about him personally) covers many cases on how many people are later found in areas searched by Search and Rescue. It happens all the time!

Even the detective I met for Patrick Carnes told us the he continues to search the area himself, and that's after an exhaustive search by Search and Rescue and even the FBI had scoured the area. 

Anyway, our missing persons videos are some of our most liked and requested videos and we plan on making many more. we get requests daily from people from all over the world who want us to cover a case of their loved one! I wish we had the ability to cover them all, but unfortunately we can only cover ones we are close enough to cover. 



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One thing your reply sums up is that search is difficult.  There is also strong scenario bias among search planners which can lead to a chain of bad search decisions, leading to no find. 

I'm sure you've experienced this in some way, but searching for 'something' is mentally taxing, often more than physically taxing.  Your eyes and your brain are constantly working.  This isn't just some 'nice hike' where you sort of passively take in the scenery and enjoy whatever it is you have in view.  You're constantly playing "one of these things is not like the others", and that drains you fast.  When I'm on a long search assignment, I will often stop my team for 5 or 10 minutes to turn off the brain.  Stop looking, stop thinking, sit down, drink water, have a snack, adjust your boots, whatever - just stop using your brain and eyes for a few minutes.  It's like taking a pause mid-workout to get a little more oxygen and glucose back into your muscles.  If I'm not the team leader, I will observe others - are their heads down, trying to not 'use' their eyes?  Are people moving more slowly for no reason?  Do people seem disengaged?  If so, I'll tell the TL that we need 5 or 10 to hydrate and make adjustments, re-check our position in the search area, update our progress with CP, etc.  Anything that gets us to stop for a few minutes and do a quick recharge.

I have no problem with folks going out into cold case territory and taking a look around.  SAR teams do that all the time anyway, and frankly, there is no guaranteed method or technology that will find a subject 100% of the time.  Heck, they just found remains down in southern California that may be from 1945 or 1946.  Plenty of planes just vanish, and they're usually easier to spot.  So yeah, by all means, bring awareness and go have a look yourself.  If nothing else, it's good exercise, fresh air, and time with the family. 

But keep in mind that if you find remains, skeletal or otherwise, it's going to be difficult.  It may not impact you immediately, but eventually it will hit you.  Family is a good first line of support.  However, don't be afraid to talk to a pro if you need it.  SAR members lean heavily on each other and it's hard to talk to others about it.  Consider that our finds aren't accidental - we intentionally head out to purposefully find the injured, and more often, the dead.  Anthropologically, burial probably arose as a way to get rid of that body because it's disturbing to us.  It's an immediate reminder of our mortality.  Functionally, we don't like those sorts of reminders.  Yes, we will all die - no, we don't want to dwell on it. 

Most important, everyone be careful out there and use your heads.  2AM wakeup calls to go look for missing subjects are NOT fun (exciting, but not fun!).  Despite that, we go.  We go to help others live, we go to help families, and as I coined after the Paradise / Camp Fire, "...so that some other poor bastard doesn't have to go."




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